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No more drinking water, little food: our island is a field of bones

Generations of Banaban women tried hard to hold island, water and people together.
In the 1920s, Banaban women were concerned about the land disappearing beneath their feet. They were angry and upset with mining managers and the colonial administration that kept pressuring them to lease more land. The women of Buankonikai village told the resident commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony, Arthur Grimble: “We want to keep our land. We want to keep our land.”
In 1928, when Banabans refused to sign more leases, the British government ordered the compulsory acquisition of that land. Grimble tried to dismiss their island as “idle” and only good for growing coconuts.
When mining started in the area of Buakonikai village,“The local women clung to their trees. If their trees were to be cut down, let them be cut down too.”
The 300 people who still live on Banaba as caretakers, face more crises. The island has run out of fresh drinking water. The bangabanga – the underground water caves that were once the only natural source of drinking water – were polluted by the removal of topsoil and 80 years of mining. Before displacement, only Banaban women could enter and collect water from these caves.
Earlier this year, after a period of drought, there were serious food shortages. The island that had “fed” so many hungry farms for most of the 20th century, no longer had enough for its own residents.
What takes millions of years for the earth to grow, can, in extractive settler and colonial hands, be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
Banabans cannot adapt to an island where 30 to 50 metres of the surface has been completely removed. This island is where generations buried their ancestors under homes that were bulldozed, along with precious coconut trees.
Those who have lived on islands for centuries, whose ancestors approached the sea as highway, not barrier, lived fluid, complex lives grounded in land, sea, and kinship between people and environment. Pacific words for land and people are the words for people, bodies. Te aba is the land and people. Banaba is te buto – the navel.
Our island is a field of bones with the flesh removed.
Banaba is a microcosm of what has happened at a planetary level. It is a place that cannot be brought back into balance and made habitable again without focused, collaborative, inspired, well-resourced and committed care and problem solving. Five governments are responsible for what happened here – Kiribati, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. So many historical, political and economic stakeholders in such a small rock in the middle of Oceania.
As recently as a few weeks ago, another Australian mining company proposed to re-mine whatever phosphate is left.Phosphate is commercially valuable and still critical to mass agriculture. This is the global agriculture we all depend on that has transformed Pacific diets for the worse, and is significantly contributing to climate change.
Right now, we have to be custodians of Banaba and protect it.

-Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Story Information:

Country: Kiribati

Topic: Climate Change (General)

Photo or video credit: Kate Nolan/The Guardian, -Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

Text Credit: Katerina Teaiwa

Date : 2 November 2022

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